CSU’s Counter-Strike Green Team play as competitors and friends

Austin Fleskes

Whether it is in the dark of a large warehouse-like hosting arena or at home in the comfort of a childhood bedroom, faces illuminated by the glow of a computer monitor mean one thing for esports competitors: the chance at victory. 

This is exactly the case for Colorado State University’s Counter-Strike Green Team. These Counter-Strike: Global Offensive competitors, described by some team members as CSU’s unofficial junior varsity team, play and train not only as competitors, but as friends who help each other in game and out. 

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“We are all very tight within our roster,” said Ian Duncan, a second-year undeclared student and team in-game leader. “We have a giant group chat that gets spammed all day. Everyone is friends. Everyone is supportive of each other. We help each other out with academics, with the game itself, always going to dinner together. It is definitely a great team environment.”

Just like any professional competitor, the members of the CSU Green Team have to deal with the criticisms against esports.

Ian Duncan plays Counter Strike: Global Offensive at Local Host in Lakewood, Colorado, on Feb. 15, 2020. The Colorado State University CS:GO team played the Colorado School of Mines and University of Colorado Boulder teams, winning against Colorado School of Mines 2-0 and losing against CU 0-2. (Austin Fleskes | The Collegian) 

While critics downplay esports in comparison to traditional sports, natural resource management sophomore and team entry fragger Maverick Ventura said there is no difference.

“I think it is total BS that people would think it is not a real sport because there is just so much practice, so much knowledge you have to learn about a particular game and so many hours you have to put into it that it is almost as similar as practicing for any other type of (athletics),” Ventura said.

Duncan said he grew up playing hockey with friends who now often question the validity of esports. But when they do, he responds with a breakdown of the word “esports” itself.

“I usually just tell them it is classified as esports for a reason; the E is important,” Duncan said. “Obviously you are not doing physically taxing things, but growing up playing sports I have never had a game be more mentally taxing than Counter-Strike. It is a competitive nature.”

Henry Griffin plays Counter Strike: Global Offensive at Local Host in Lakewood, Colorado, on Feb. 15, 2020. The Colorado State University CS:GO team played the Colorado School of Mines and University of Colorado Boulder teams, winning against Colorado School of Mines 2-0 and losing against CU 0-2. (Austin Fleskes | Collegian)

Nathan Kozakis, a third-year computer science student and team fill support player, agreed, adding that the way esports is described is not much different than, say, football.

“It has a lot of the same properties (as traditional sports): teamwork, communication, strategy, dexterity, just skill,” Kozakis said. “It just makes so much sense to describe it to someone like a sport. It’s like a sport; it’s an esport.”

While the future of esports continues to evolve, competitors can see the future of the field going great places.

“I see the platform being, if not the same, higher than ESPN,” Ventura said. “I think that esports will transcend. Especially with the availability (it has). You don’t have to be in an athletic setting where you have access to trainers. You can just get the game and get good at it yourself.”

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For many on the team, the way that they came into CS:GO was the same: friends who found the game and started to play, eventually inviting more to come and join.

We are all very tight within our roster. We have a giant group chat that gets spammed all day. Everyone is friends. everyone is supportive of each other. we help each other out with academics, with the game itself, always going to dinner together. It is definitely a great team environment.” -Ian Duncan, second-year undeclared student, team in-game leader

Duncan said he got into PC gaming in 2013 and at first wasn’t very interested in CS:GO. But that changed after he became better versed in the intricacies of the game. 

“The next year, in 2014, when I started playing (CS:GO) again and had more basics (of) movement and aim and how to play PC games in general, then it became much more fascinating for me,” Duncan said.

Kozakis had a similar experience growing up, and his eventual love for the game kept him going longer than those he originally played with.

But this love for the game brought the CSU Green Team together to grow as competitors and friends.

“I didn’t actually find out about the collegiate teams until after my first year, and then I found the team and was like, ‘This is my stuff. This is what I am going to join,’” Ventura said.

The team plays in two different leagues at the collegiate level: the Collegiate Starleague and the North American Collegiate Counter-Strike league. These leagues pit universities against one another online and, occasionally, in person. On Feb. 15, the CSU Green Team played against the Colorado School of Mines, winning 2-0, and the University of Colorado Boulder, losing 0-2.  

According to Duncan, the team’s season just ended with them in the top eight in both leagues, with over 160 competing teams in the NACCS and over 60 in the CSL. Until the next season, Duncan added that the team is spending the summer practicing with what is planned to be the fall roster.

Some of the team’s other favorite games include: 

  • Terraria
  • Mordhau
  • NHL series
  • DiRT Rally
  • Other esports, including Overwatch and Rocket League

When the team is not in the heat of a game, they spend time practicing, helping each other with schoolwork or just having fun.

Kozakis said that beyond the social aspect of the team, playing and practicing together helps the team improve because of the team setting and the lack of random, toxic or negative players.

“It is a great way to meet people, and in the game you get to sort of have some consistency with your teammates and improve that way,” Kozakis said. “Because playing on your own or with random people every game doesn’t really form much teamwork, but once you have the same group of people on the team, that is when teamwork becomes a huge part of it.”

I think it is total BS that people would think (esports are) not a real sport because there is just so much practice, so much knowledge you have to learn about a particular game and so many hours you have to put into it that it is almost as similar as practicing for any other type of (athletics).” -Maverick Ventura, natural resource management sophomore, team entry fragger

And this skill improvement, according to many on the team, is a major part of CS:GO as a whole. While there is debate over what could be considered the “hardest” esport, stacking up against games like DOTA 2 or StarCraft II, many on the CSU Green Team agree that the skill caps in CS:GO make it the hardest.

Maverick Ventura plays Counter Strike: Global Offensive at Local Host in Lakewood, Colorado, on Feb. 15, 2020. The Colorado State University CS:GO team played the Colorado School of Mines and University of Colorado Boulder teams, winning against Colorado School of Mines 2-0 and losing against CU 0-2. (Austin Fleskes | Collegian)

“In terms of personal skill, there are so many factors that come into how you push a site, how you push a position and how you gain control over the enemy team,” Ventura said.

Kozakis said that one of the reasons that CS:GO is considered to be one of the hardest esports is because of the constant improvement necessary to stay up to the level of other competitors.

“Mechanically the skill cap in Counter-Strike is very high, just because you can always get a little bit better,” Kozakis said. “I don’t know if there is any other skill cap that will be reached by players. You can put so many hours into it and still get better.”

Duncan said that while it can be difficult and, at times, frustrating when the heat of competition kicks in, the game is fair at the base level.

“It is a skill-based game,” Duncan said. “When it comes to basis of skill, it is even, it is fair. The better aim you have, the better player you are. But then you add the strategy on top of that, and it becomes a game of basically chess and paintball.”

It is a great way to meet people, and in the game you get to sort of have some consistency with your teammates and improve that way.” -Nathan Kozakis, third-year computer science student, team fill support

As the team continues to improve, much of it has to be from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the team is fairly used to practicing and playing online, Duncan wrote in an update message to The Collegian that the pandemic has made things tough for the team when it comes to practicing and competing, especially with competitors moving back home.

“It is much harder now that we have people spread from Seattle to Virginia,” Duncan wrote. “The time zone and wireless connections on different sides of the country make it more difficult for sure. Overall the way we practice and play is still basically the same (during) COVID, but it has definitely put noticeable strain and complications on us.”

While esports viewership is on the rise during the pandemic, with Twitch seeing a 31% increase in viewership by one estimate, Duncan said that the field of esports is still seeing its deal of hardship.

“While this does (help) the growth of esports, it’s not a major advantage whatsoever,” Duncan wrote. “The live aspect of esports is just like any other sport. Seeing it happen live is way different than watching from home, so the full experience is changed right now.”

Despite having to deal with players moving around and planning games around different time zones, members of the team say that it is more than just a game at the end of the day. 

“I don’t think we focus as much at getting better as just having an experience like this,” Duncan said.

Austin Fleskes can be reached at managingeditor@collegian.com or on Twitter @Austinfleskes07.